Sunday, March 16, 2008

Crossing the Atlantic

I just returned from what I expect will be my first of many trips to Europe. The whole experience can be summed up in one word: Wow. It's the little differences that I found most facinating, but there are plenty of big ones you can't miss either.

Let's start with the overview of the trip. Nine days with a group of three other women, taking a traveling view of Italy. Transportation would include plane, taxi, bus, metro, local train, Eurostar, water bus and the most often used mode would be walking, a lot of walking. Plans were to visit Rome, Pisa, Florence, Naples and Venice if time and energy allowed for them all.

Just getting there was entertaining. We took a direct flight from Chicago to Rome Fiumicino airport. We were able to get Business Class seats for the trip, which sounded great to me. Then I saw what that entailed... woah. First class on domestic flights pales in comparison to this. Going anywhere internationally, this is the way to travel. Each passenger has plenty of space and seats that have more adjustments than a Mercedes. Once in flight, the attendants provided the laptop-sized personal tv's that had a sizable selection of movies and currently running tv shows. Those came with your personal Bose noise-canceling headphones too. As a relatively frequent traveler, my husband discovered those a few years ago and we haven't had a flight without them since. But to have them provided, that was a surprise. Also each seat was equipped with a cigarette-lighter style power plug, so I arrived with my Ipod charged and ready to go after using it as much as I wanted on the flight. The 5 course meal provided on real china, with real silverware was actually good. I know, airline food... good? Rarely do the two go together, but in this case it was an accurate, if surprising, statement. But enough about the flight already...

On one hand, Rome is just another big city. However, the staggering amount of well preserved and documented history found in this city does change that a bit. Everywhere is history. Considering that "old" there takes on an entirely different meaning than we find in the USA, it really is something to see and simply absorb. After arriving in Rome about 10am, we checked our luggage at the hotel and went for a short stroll to see a few things. A few blocks from our hotel was the Colosseum. Just the sight of this massive structure was a wake-up call... "Yes, you really are looking at what you've previously only seen in photos." We would wait until the next day for a tour, but just to stand in the piazza and see it, the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Forum nearby was indescribable.

Some general observances I made very quickly about Rome proved themselves true over the days we were there. The cars fascinated me, probably a bit to the annoyance of my traveling companions. My own cars at home would seem ghastly and big in contrast with the city cars that populated the roman streets. Smart cars were everywhere, as well as all the small sized vehicle offerings from Fiat, Peugeot, Citroen, Mercedes, the occasional Ford and some I didn't recognize at all. The vast majority were models not sold in the US at all, and would be nearly laughed at on the street as looking like "toys." But at nearly $8 a gallon for gas, who can blame them for wanting the most fuel efficiency possible? Toss into the mix at least one scooter for every three cars on the road as well. With this crush of compact cars and 2 wheeled cheap transportation on the road, traffic was lunacy. Lanes? What lanes? Drivers simply drove wherever they wanted, the idea of lanes was merely a suggestion. Scooter riders were the real daredevils, splitting the suggested lanes at every opportunity, taking full advantage of their narrow size and ability to drive over most any obstacle in the way, including pedestrians. Traffic and the drivers there are simply insane. Maybe outside of the city center it's not that way, but inside, pandemonium rules the road.

I'll be posting more of the experience including a few pictures... coming soon!

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